The Seattle Design Festival will hold its annual event Aug. 21-22 at Lake Union Park. The two-day street fair will be during the hours of 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. In the year of adapting to multiple city-sanctioned reopening phases, festival participants were tasked with this year’s festival theme, “emerge.”
To participate, an individual or a group had to submit a proposal on how their work would “explore what it means to EMERGE into 2021, demonstrate the relevance of design thinking, empower communities to leverage design, and promote a culture of collaboration,” according to Design In Public’s website. The festival’s planning team has picked and joined with at least 50 partners who will participate.
“Our thought was, what are we emerging to as our community heals, as we navigate changed perspectives and as we think about new ways to leverage design,” said Annalee Shum, the Design in Public senior programs manager. “This year it was actually really interesting to think about community, as I think many people were dealing with both feelings of isolation and this really unique, ever-present connection that comes with a shared traumatic experience.”
Shum said a variety of installations, workshops, design projects and other activities center around themes of transformation and adaptation, and she encourages Seattleites to get hands-on and collaborate with each other at the free event. One collaborative activity festivalgoers can partake in is a letter exchange station called Dear Friend. In an anonymous letter, people can share with a stranger life lessons, words of encouragement, advice or struggles they have endured during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another interactive installation will be Through the Fog, where suspended layers of sheer fabric mimic the appearance of fog. The piece is supposed to provoke thought about isolation and connection during the pandemic and what these experiences mean.
There are also special housing projects in this year’s Design Fest that align with heightened societal concern over homelessness. The pandemic has pushed more people into health and poverty duress, made homelessness more visible and shown the importance of a private room. Yet occupancy restrictions at homeless shelters and communal living spaces and safety concerns withhold refuge from thousands of local people.
One project in this year’s festival is a collaboration between architecture firm Olson Kundig and nonprofit Camp United We Stand. Together they created a new temporary housing prototype called Homebase, which they think could shelter marginalized people efficiently.
Camp United We Stand is a legally-sanctioned homeless encampment that relocates to a new site in Shoreline or North Seattle every 90 days. The roving camp faces a design challenge: The housing needs to be easily disassembled, moved and reconstructed to be re-used once a new permit location is secured. The Homebase design was driven by input from residents living in encampments and what they wanted to see in a shelter.
Real Change interviewed Clay Anderson, one of the architects at Olson Kundig in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.
How does this prototype stand out from other temporary shelters?
This prototype stands out due to the nature of how temporary and modular the design is. It needs to be taken apart and put back together many times and be built by the community.
How can an occupant personalize their living space? Why is that important?
Due to the modular, frame build-up, we imagine inhabitants using this space as extra storage. The plywood can also be painted or customized to fit different personalities. Because of the modular nature, the system could expand to accommodate more than one person as well. It is important to have a sense of ownership and agency over the temporary shelter. This is a temporary solution, with goals so people can move on to more permanent housing. The modules also allow for insulation to be added to the interior as funds allow.
Have you noticed any trends in personalization?
After visits to several encampments, one of the most sought-after features is storage space. Some people even had solar panels, which have become much more affordable in recent years. Windows have been a desire for many, and the design team took this into consideration and provided the opportunity/flexibility to have multiple openings. Letting daylight into the space will allow for a more comfortable living situation.
What's the biggest challenge your firm faced design-wise?
The biggest challenges were working with a super tight budget and figuring out a solution that could be disassembled and rebuilt often.
Why did you take on this project?
We thought the effort being made by Camp United We Stand was super important. The ethos of providing temporary housing and assistance to people experiencing homelessness was such a simple yet smart concept.
The prototype is going to be adopted by Camp United We Stand. Do you know how many are planned?
Camp United We Stand plans to build 30 more shelters. The prototype has been a great way to test these ideas and also make the structure easier and more affordable to build for the future structures.
Is there more than one design, or are the prototypes all uniform?
Due to the modular design, we envisioned structures could grow to accommodate a small family or even link up structures to create community spaces between units.
What is the cost of the shelter?
The parameters were very tight, at $1,000. Due to the pandemic and lumber prices, that number has likely doubled or tripled. Camp United We Stand does get donations from many local businesses to make that more achievable, which is great.
How durable are these shelters? Do we know their lifespan? It sounds like they’ll be built and rebuilt a lot.
The structures are intended as a temporary shelter and as durable as possible given the budget. Coating the wood will extend the life of the structure and with occasional maintenance, these should last for many years. This is an interim solution and this shouldn’t be seen as a solution to long-term permanent housing. These structures were designed to be bolted together and disassembled often. The bolt design and modular nature makes this process pretty straightforward with some time and a few people.
The Seattle Design Festival emerges in South Lake Union Aug. 21-22; the Homebase installation will be near the Center for Wooden Boats in Lake Union Park.
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the Aug. 18-24, 2021 issue.